Six bears saved from illegal bile farm in China

11 January 2013

Six bears were rescued from an illegal bear bile farm in China on Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 by the Sichuan Forestry Department and delivered to Animals Asia.

On arrival they were immediately assessed and prioritised for health checks before being settled for the evening. Subsequent examinations on January 10th and January 11th, have shown an array of health problems which staff are scheduling for surgery.

To follow the rescue step by step see our timeline below. Start at the bottom and scroll upwards to read about it as it happened.

New Year Bear Rescue Timeline


11 January 2013 17.35

This picture of Shamrock waking up in a recovery cage seems like a good way to end the week. There’s a long way to go for these six bears but here’s hoping that this is an eye opening on the start of a better life. We’ll add to this information next week when we can consolidate what we know and what images are available. In the meantime thanks so much to all those who donated or left messages of support on Facebook or Twitter. It’s been a massive week. Thank you.

11 January 2013 17.30

Details of their various ailments are arriving via email. Shamrock’s wounds on *her* face have been cleaned up. Katie has a gallstones problem. Toby watched over by namesake (who helped cut his nails) is very very light at only 81.5 kilos and has very bad teeth. All have problems with their paws. We await news on the severity of all of these issues.

11 January 2013 17.25

Good news is that all health checks are now complete. The order today has been Shamrock, Katie, Toby. All are now in recovery cages and those tiny farm cages are behind them.

11 January 2013 17.20

Bombshell: turns out Shamrock is a she. Toby too. There’s five girls and one boy, Peter. We just assumed at this end - only Katie/Oscar had the vets confused until they could take a closer look (she’s a Katie). Non gender-specific names can be so confusing.

11 January 2013 17.15

Updates coming in again. Our man in Chengdu had to return to being our man in Hong Kong. Luckily our woman in Chengdu has stepped up with updates and some great images.

11 January 2013 09.33

Close up of Shamrock’s paw as he’s being prepared for his health check.

11 January 2013 08.38

Buddha a picky eater on his first night is now developing an appetite again and he’s demolishing his food. Vets very pleased about this with food making such a difference to their recovery and also shows he’s settling in.

11 January 2013 08.37

Treats for the bears who were health checked yesterday as part of their enrichment. Smoked tofu, dried fruit and even toys to play with.

11 January 2013 08.33

Bears reported to be much quieter this morning. Staff hoping that they now know we’re not here to hurt them. So starts a gradual process of increased trust. Monica explains that while the health check might leave them a bit groggy it shouldn’t leave them in any additional discomfort.

11 January 2013 08.27

Also on the receiving end of admiring glances is Toby (the bear rather than namesake Animals Asia China’s external affairs director who he is named after). Monica and Jill pronouncing him “gorgeous” (again we mean the bear here though Toby (the man) is no slouch).

11 January 2013 08.26

Jill promises Shamrock a face wash when he’s under anesthetic for his health check today. This angel with a dirty face is going to be quite a looker. Look at those eyes. He’s been prioritised for the first health check today.

11 January 2013 08.25

Bear number one, until now known by the catch all nickname of “Oscar or Katie” is most definitely a Katie. This was confirmed by a shout of “I can see girl bits” from Monica.

11 January 2013 08.24

New Year Rescue day three starts with checking in on the bears. Three now in much bigger cages which is great to see.

11 January 2013 05.10

British Actor (writer, director, comedian, presenter, national treasure etc) Stephen Fry has also been alerted to the New Year Rescue and shares the news and this page with his 5m plus followers on Twitter. Thanks Mr Fry!


11 January 2013 03.04

Animals Asia ambassador Peter Egan hears Peter the Bear is named after him and that’s inspiration enough to book a plane ticket to China and visit him in the flesh/fur. Fantastic!

10 January 2013 17.45

The final health check of the day has just finished for Peter, an extremely emaciated bear with barely any muscle on his body. He's a very tall bear and he's been shoved into a tiny cage for many years. He has severely overgrown pads on his feet with very deep bar indentations on the pads and overgrown claws. He has a small ulcerated area where his bile extraction site would have been. We suspect his gall bladder is massively scarred and deeply traumatised but we will know more when we operate. Health checks resume in the morning.


10 January 2013 14.46

Sun Li is in the recovery cage now but sadly she’s not in a good health at all. She will need major abdominal surgery. We understand the extra time it has taken for her check also means we are running out of time for health checks for the remaining bears. They can manage only one more today which has commenced already. With that in mind, next up is bear 3 (henceforth known as Peter). We're waiting to find out why Peter was chosen next, we understand he arrived in the smallest cage so it may be they're keen to get him out of that as soon as they can. The rest of the health checks will start again in the morning as the bears will soon be settled down for the evening.

10 January 2013 13.43

We just heard the rescue has made the New York Times which is fantastic.

10 January 2013 13.20

While we’re waiting for more news on the health checks, lots of questions from those following the New Year Rescue via our Facebook page about the cages we’re seeing in the pictures and the gradual progression for the bears towards open enclosures. You can read our response here.

10 January 2013 12.26

Sun Li now anesthetised and brought outside ready to be taken out of the cage and onto tarpaulin.

10 January 2013 12.18

Bear 5 (Henceforth known as Sun Li) has now been given anaesthetic but needed a top up due to high levels of agitation. Adrenaline works against anesthetic.

10 January 2013 11.19

Health check complete and bear being moved into a recovery cage. Paws in terrible condition, claws grown over nearly puncturing pads with indentations from the cage bars. Gall bladder enlarged as a result of extractions. She’ll be scheduled to have it removed.

10 January 2013 10.08

Teeth being checked. Signs of bar biting.

10 January 2013 10.06

Bear four (henceforth known as Buddha) out of his cage and onto a tarpaulin and being prepared for health check.

10 January 2013 09.54

Hearing from Nicola that the bears will all hopefully be out of the farm cages and into recovery cages by the end of the day. However, this depends on how quickly the bears can be checked and on any urgent health care issues that come to light.

10 January 2013 09.34

Waiting for anesthetic to take effect which can take up to half an hour depending on the stress level of the bear.

10 January 2013 09.28

Names (some temporary) confirmed as Bear 1: Oscar or Katie (will try and get this confirmed) Bear 2: Shamrock (see this Irish Times article on this star) Bear 3: is Peter, Bear 4 is Buddha, Bear 5 is Sun Li and Bear 6 is Toby.

10 January 2013 09.29

Hearing that bear named Shamrock is named after the Shamrock Bar in Chengdu which has raised a lot of money for Animals Asia. This name is permanent. Others mostly just temporary nicknames. Will run through them as soon as we’re clear on them.

10 January 2013 09.27

Bear four being anesthetised meanwhile staff are doing their best to distract adjacent bear five.

10 January 2013 09.20

Vet team making preparations for the first health check which it’s now decided will be bear four.

10 January 2013 08.54

Jill notes that this time of the morning would normally be bile extraction time. Their reaction very understandable.

10 January 2013 08.53

Senior vet Monica attempting to soothe the bear. Guessing being called sweetie is a first for the bear. Bear manager Nicola also in attendance. Bears not liking humans much.

10 January 2013 08.52

Bear, now named Shamrock, became upset and growled aggressively when Monica got close. Bear four is hiding behind straw. Bear five moaning and trembling. Very agitated.

10 January 2013 08.52

Bear three has apparently managed to eat three trays of food.

10 January 2013 08.43

Bear six crying out. Described by founder Jill as: “The most heartbreaking sound in the world.”

9 January 2013 17.39

9 January 2013 17.38

Bears arrived late now so are being settled down with straw and browse in their cages and being fed. They’ll be prioritised for health checks in the morning - lining up behind bear five.

9 January 2013 17.33

China bear rescue total is confirmed by Toby to be 285 (with the newly named Toby being the 285th!)

9 January 2013 17.27

Bear five nicknamed Sun Li after Chinese star

9 January 2013 16.55

Second bear nicknamed Shamrock

9 January 2013 16.53

Bear six last off the truck nicknamed Toby after our China external affairs director. Jill announced it, Toby blushed – then smiled.

9 January 2013 16.51

Bear five will be priority for medical attention tomorrow morning due to bile leakage.

9 January 2013 16.42

Bear five starving. Some bile leakage

9 January 2013 16.41

Bear four agitated. Bear workers lifted up cage so vet could look underneath for leaking bile, blood or other injuries. No visible problems so he's taken to quarantine.

9 January 2013 16.40

“If you’ve seen the paws of the bears it’s obvious they haven't stood on solid ground for years,” Jill Robinson, Animals Asia Founder

9 January 2013 16.35

Second bear agitated and bleeding from paws. Circling and rotating in the cage. Couldn't be distracted with fruit.

9 January 2013 16.30

First bear off the tuck after integrity of cages had been checked.

9 January 2013 16.00

Bears arrived.